Revisiting Waterhouse?

People with serious allegations will want them investigated by somebody with both the will and the power to do this. That is why further concerns arising in connection with the circumstances that occasioned the Waterhouse enquiry have been presented to the Secretary of State rather than to the Children’s Commissioner. The Commissioner still lacks the requisite jurisdiction to investigate many potentially relevant matters, and his powers of action are severely circumscribed. Consequently, the presentation of the instant allegations to the Secretary of State cannot be read as a criticism of the Commissioner, his office, or his staff.

All these years after Waterhouse, we still lack a Children’s Commissioner with the powers necessary to prosecute his or her task as envisaged. We still lack a vigorous independent advocacy service for children. The First Minister (one of Nature’s lance-corporals if there ever was) is evidently still awaiting his orders, and the rest of the Government display no particular inclination to make the changes desperately needed to the status quo. The jurisdiction that failed the young was not substantially reformed, let alone replaced, subsequently to Waterhouse. We may only hope that the competence and integrity of those operating it will overcome its inherent flaws and attain some measure of justice for all concerned. Beyond expressing such a hope, it would not be appropriate to comment on the matters of current concern.

For the future, we need to ensure that the goals set out in Waterhouse are attained. The present tangle of overlapping jurisdictions frustrates those who operate them as much as it impedes those who approach any of them. Justice was famously defined as constans et perpetua voluntas jus suum cuique tribuens. But we need to remind ourselves that the right requires more than good will of us. Justinian goes one to say Juris praecepta sunt haec: honeste vivere, alterum non laedere, suum cuique tribuere. We need clear and usable law in order to achieve the aims of justice. The National Assembly must without delay set about creating such law.

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